Dean Lister: “Even a loss can only make you stronger”

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When we were contemplating about whom we wanted to ask to do our first ever ELITE BJJ exclusive

interview, the first name that popped up was Dean Listers. This was not due to him being a super famous grappler, ADCC champion, Pride and UFC veteran, 3.degree black belt in BJJ, Sambo and wrestling champion, or because he is a respected coach of several grapplers and MMA fighters, successful academy owner, leglock legend or feared opponent. After all, his super-fights in Metamoris, ADCC, Polaris and Berkut among many others are YouTube hits in the BJJ community. All of this is in itself great reasons for why a BJJ site with any respect for themselves should do a piece on “The Boogeyman”.

Truth is, that my (the writer) personal reason for wanting him as an interview object for our first ELITE BJJ exclusive piece was that some years ago, when I had just started out with BJJ, I attended a seminar with professor Dean Lister. Being a complete novice, I actually didn’t know who he was. What struck me over the duration of the seminar, apart from his knowledge and skills, was his kindness and humbleness towards us, regardless of our level of experience and mat time. He made us all feel valuable and respected even though I didn’t even know how to hip escape or what an armbar was.

 When my friend and I asked him to go have dinner with us after the seminar, he kindly accepted the invitation and walked through half the town with us, sharing great and personal stories, joking and generally making us feel like good friends even if we had just met him few hours prior to that. People were stopping us in the street and that’s when I realized: “This guy is actually famous!”

 How he conducted himself those two days with us and towards everyone else made me grow a deep respect for the man, made me wanting to continue training in BJJ, and I have been a fan ever since! Many great names will follow, until then, enjoy our first ever ELITE BJJ exclusive with professor Dean Lister!

1) What’s up? Tell us what you have been up to lately!

Been staying low, focusing more on seminars and teaching. Primarily because I need surgery to repair a ripped muscle that happened a few years ago. Besides teaching at my academy in San Diego, Victory MMA… I also do plenty of seminars all around the world

The current project we have been working on and finally have finished is my 2nd DVD set advanced leg locks and escapes.  It’s a 2nd version of my K.A.T.C.H series DVD


2) Do you remember your first competition?

My first competition was in very early 1996.  I placed 2nd in the Machado Invitational tournament in Los Angeles.  At that time no one could compete unless they were at least a blue belt. With my wrestling background, I got my blue belt pretty fast within only a few months.


 3) What do you consider your greatest quality in your grappling?

Tough question… Probably my ability to think “outside the box” or maybe from a different perspective… I do this naturally and quite consciously knowing that deception and different styles are difficult to figure out.  Everyone knows that one guy that has a weird style that’s hard to figure out. Well that’s me for sure!


4) Gi and nogi: what do you consider to be the ups and downs with both?

Both are great. It’s more preference. Gi is more technical in the sense that there are many more submissions available due to the kimono and grips. Especially chokes! It is also harder to rely on strength and slip out of a move because you are sweaty, the gi will make that difficult so this means you must learn a correct way to escape instead of relying more on athletic ability…  Gi is also important to know for self-defense since usually people are wearing some type of pants or jacket/shirt.  So it is useful in real life situations at times.

However with no gi, it is much faster paced, the grips are different.  Because things can and will slip, you must integrate a more well rounded “chain wrestling” type of mentality (kind of like combinations in boxing) where you develop series of moves and learn to quickly react from muscle memory and mind practice vs. any move an opponent makes.  Also no gi is more realistic for MMA or a fight where your opponent has no shirt on.

In the end, this is like comparing wrestling and Judo or boxing vs. Kickboxing. These are all great sports and all are technical.  Certain individuals will gravitate towards specific sports based on their body type, their personality and also their intentions of competing… For instance, a fighter who wants to be in the UFC needs to do more no gi than gi in training since he won’t be fighting anyone with a gi.


5) How is your typical training routine during any random week?

I’m weird in this way.  I don’t have a very structured schedule.  I kind of do what I want, what I need to work on, things I want to try.  I make it simple, not easy but simple. I train Jiu Jitsu; I train the sport that I compete in.  I used to be a big time weight lifter when I was in high school and weights are good but the sport in the end is 100% functional in improving your mind and body at the same time


6) Tell us your Top 5 grapplers and why?

Marcelo Garcia – class act, humble, technical, honorable, talented

Rodolfo Viera – young and strong, athletic, fast and technical, even at his young age, he is already a legend

Jacare Souza – yes also technical and basically everything above but sooooo explosive, he is also a fighter like me, he is upper ranked in the UFC just like I used to be when I was younger (laughs)

Rolles Gracie – he was my role model when I was young, he was the coach of my coach Fabio Santos.  He is perhaps in many minds top 3 of all Gracie’s in History in his sheer spirit and ability. He was an innovator and thought outside the box, which I do a lot.  He competed in wrestling, Sambo, Judo and of course his native sport Jiu Jitsu.  He wasn’t afraid to play by others’ rules and win

Andre Galvao – I know everyone on this list except for Prof Rolles who died in 1980s (RIP) however Andre is the one I know the best.  We have a lasting friendship and have helped each other… He is also beyond talented, beyond technical and his work ethic is top of the top.  He also broke the 10 year long ADCC super fight curse hehe…. For about 10 years everyone who won the absolute went on to have a super fight and almost all of them won the super fight but everyone lost the 2nd super fight.  I’m included on that list.  I was supposed to face Roger Gracie in 2007 but I tore my bicep and couldn’t compete…. So the curse struck me but he broke the curse.  So he is a special guy.


7) Do you have a not so known “fun fact” about any famous grappler?

I have too many to list here.  I was coach of Tito Ortiz for about 7 years.  Been in his corner many times in UFC.  Before every one of his fights he is calm but sometime between 30-45 minutes before he fights he locks himself in the bathroom, he vomits, cries and yells and he comes out of the bathroom ready to kill his opponent.

Marcelo Garcia is perhaps the only grappler I didn’t submit in training.  We both had each other in holds and it was fun training but man he is technical and moves really well.

Xande Ribeiro a friend and many time rival of mine.  He doesn’t walk around smiling too often that I’ve seen.  He doesn’t drink very often but after a match, give him a few beers and he’s all smiles and non-stop laughing

Rodolfo Viera, the future!  After our match in UK ADCC 2011.  Well it was my day and I beat him (perhaps another day he would beat me who knows?) well he was a good sport but apparently he’d never been submitted before in competition… Late that night in UK (Nottingham) imagine 50 drunken Brazilians in a hotel lobby comparing moves and talking. The Brits didn’t know what to think, they had no clue what to do. A very intoxicated Rodolfo got to my back took me down in the lobby and said, “now its my turn for revenge!” (Laughs) even though we were both drinking, he was joking and playing around… It was funny; many pictures were taken of this.


 8) Rank the following competition formats on a scale from 1-10 with 1 being the lowest:

  •  IBJJF
  •  ADCC
  •  EBI
  •  Metamoris
  •  Berkut
  • It’s a difficult question to answer because many of these events comprise the same competitors

1) ADCC: It is the hardest of all!  Every 2 years there are 5 champions in the world, 6 if you include the absolute and 2 for women.  It is also the original tough tournament with great history.

2) IBJJF: even though I don’t compete in IBJJF rules, it is the hardest tournament in jiu jitsu with Kimono.  Perhaps it should be listed in a different category.

3) Metamoris: The amount of legends that have competed here rivals ADCC

Berkut and EBI are tied for 4th or 5th.These are many times the same people competing… Both are world class and badass events just with differing rules.


 9) What would be your dream super fight? You can choose any grappler, dead or alive, active or retired.

I wanna rematch Arona from my loss to him in Pride back in 2005.  Man, I’m on a new level now and I’d win.  He also pulled a cheap move and stuck his dirty fingers into a small cut I had next to my eyebrow and ripped it open.  So I needed a lot of stitches… After Arona ripped my cut open on my face I told the Japanese Officials from Pride and they didn’t do anything.  But they were watching for this behavior in his next fight against Sakuraba. They caught him on camera doing the same thing to Sakuraba; I think they fined him $40,000 so I guess being a cheater doesn’t pay off so well.

I have gotten better; he wouldn’t be able to escape my leg locks now!


10) Anything on your heart that you want to share with the world, good or bad?

Nothing specific. I’m just very happy to see the sport grow so fast. The type of person who does Jiu Jitsu or any type of grappling is a special/different type of person. I would suggest sticking with it, anything, even a loss can only make you stronger

We thank Dean Lister for taking time to answer our questions, and while you wait for the next close up with another great name in the BJJ/grappling community, take some time to enjoy one of Dean Listers greatest fights, against Xande Ribeiro in Metamoris:

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